Hagia Sophia and the Catastrophe of Symbolism

Photograph Source: Arild Vågen – CC BY-SA 3.0

As a Muslim, I find Erdogan’s “decree” to change the status of Hagia Sophia (or Ayasofya in Turkish) from a museum to a masjid extremely disturbing. Yes, it is true that Turkey is a sovereign state, so it can do whatever it wants within its borders. But these actions have severe consequences. Hagia Sophia was built as a church around AD 530 and was used as a church until the Ottoman Sultan Mohammad the Conqueror converted it into a masjid (i.e., mosque). The ruling of the Turkish government in the 1930s to convert it to a museum figures no where in any present argument, in my opinion. So if one would support Erdogan’s decree by invoking convoluted legal arguments, one needs not read anything further.

The gratification that some Muslims feel by hearing the athan (the call for prayers) from the minarets of Hagia Sophia (these minarets were added by the Ottomans) invokes images of conquest and subjugation rather than images of glorification of Allah, humility, and above all, the oneness of Allah. I am sure many Muslims may be feeling unprecedented elation while imagining the reliving of the “golden” era of Islam and Muslims.

From a pure mathematical analysis, let us imagine the damage such conversion will do to Muslims around the world and to the image of Islam. More than 3.6 millions from all over the world visit Hagia Sophia every year. On one of my trips to Turkey, I had to stay in line for at least one hour to get inside (longer than you have to wait to see Topkapi palace). Now these millions will witness firsthand how despite a vast land and thousands of masajids all over Turkey, the Muslims (who would think to put the blame only on Erdogan and his desperation for votes) have even ran after Christian places of worship and icons! What an amazing image of tolerance and respect! I will certainly support and echo what Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, considered the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, recently said last month that this conversion “will turn millions of Christians across the world against Islam.” He was dead right!

Now those who champion what Erdogan did should not be surprised or mad or upset at the conversion of Ayodhya masjid to a Hindu temple, or the conversion of the Grand Masjid of Cordoba into a church!  Wait…those Muslims should not be surprised, mad, or upset if the Aqsa masjid is converted to a temple either! After all, India, Spain and Israel, are all sovereign states.

I understand that politics is extremely dirty and politicians will use every means to get votes, but who in the world advised Erdogan to make this move?

Turkey has many enemies that are trying to weaken it, from the East to the West.  Is this really what Turkey needs now? Is this what Muslims need now? Is this what the world needs now?

This conversion has nothing to do with Islam. Islam protects places of worship not for Muslims but for the worshippers who believe and use these places of worship. This claim can be supported directly and explicitly from the source of Islam (i.e., the Mus’haf) and from the behavior of those who were very close and lived with Muhammad the Messenger of Islam. The second Caliph Omar choose to pray 50 yards away from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (arguably the most important in Christianity) for fear, most likely, that zealous and irrational Muslims will convert the church into a masjid. He choose to pray 50 yards away on a piece of land that is now known as Masjid Omar.

This conversion has to do with votes and an infinitely narrow vision of history, culture, and even politics.

You put an Angel (with its cross-religions “traditional” definition) in power, then come visit him/her/it after a year and you will find that Angel has turned into a Satan!

Omar M. Ramahi is the author of Muslims’ Greatest Challenge: Choosing between Tradition and Islam. He can be reached at oramahi@gmail.com.

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